Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What the "Clown Shortage" Taught Us About Clowning

You might have recently heard about the shortage of clowns being reported. Upon first glance, this might seem like a silly headline, but, if like us, you love the Bello Nocks of the world, this is sad news. The Daily News reported declining rates in the nation's clowning trade organizations, citing a change in attitude toward taking clowning seriously as a career idea for younger generations.

Certain stories took a different take, saying "the issue is being overblown... there are plenty of young clowns — they just aren’t rushing off to join unions."(Time)

So, while we're not necessarily in a position to clear up whether or not this shortage is real, we do feel the need to come to the clowns' defense. Why? To quote some of the publications that covered the story, "kids are looking for real jobs" (USA Today), and "lack of cool isn't the problem -- creepiness is... clowns are just the worst things ever" (Huffington Post), not to mention the amount of times the name "Bozo" was tossed around in a disparaging way. Each of these stories poked fun at the hardworking performers who've been an essential cornerstone to American comedy traditions for hundreds of years.

In response to the report, we reached out to a number of the clowns who work as teaching artists for The New Victory Theater. We asked them, originally, to weigh in on the question of a shortage, but what we received back were heartfelt declarations describing why clowning is their trade of choice. Here's what one had to say:

"While in college (around the year 2000), I realized I was interested in clowning after I saw a clown show for grown-ups in a theater. I then went to physical theatre school and am now part of a physical comedy ensemble with fellow school alums. I also work as a hospital clown. Some of the trappings of clowning have become dated (eg, certain looks and shtick), but what hasn't changed is audience appreciation for hopeful, vulnerable, irreverent, laughable characters who showcase physical stupidity (and greatness!). These days, not all clowns work inside a circus tent or wear a red nose, so we may be harder to spot, but clowns and clown-inspired performers are still a comedy force to be reckoned with!" - Sarah Petersiel, professional clown and New Vic Teaching Artist

Check back in throughout the week to learn a little bit more about these individuals who dedicate their lives to making your and your family smile! In addition to Sarah, you'll hear from Christina, Liz and Skyler, all successful clowns working today in New York City, and whom you may have met at Family Workshops, Kids Weeks, Arts Express events and more. These passionate performers show us time and time again how this form of the arts -- humor, physical comedy, sometimes acrobatics -- can help even the most shy or unconventional kid feel comfortable in his or her own skin!

Think clowning might be the right fit for your son or daughter? Allow them to pursue this interest by planning a trip to see Bello Mania this April, or by trying out our Circus Kids Week. Whether or not your kid becomes the next Blinko, he or she will develop an appreciation for this classic art form and learn a lot about themselves along the way!
Hear from a few other New Vic Teaching Artists as part of this series:
Christina Gelsone
Skyler Sullivan
Elizabeth Bolick

Sarah Petersiel is a performer, clown and teaching artist based in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated from Brown University with a degree in Theatre, Education, and Multicultural Studies and went on to study physical theatre and clown at the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Apart from her work with The New Victory Theater, Sarah is a member of the physical comedy ensemble Under the Table having recently returned from a residency in Denmark, where Under the Table made an original show for young audiences. She is also a Clown Doctor (performer in pediatric hospital settings) with the Big Apple Circus' Clown Care Unit. Sarah is in her sixth season at The New Victory!

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